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Margaret Pokiak-Fenton facts for kids

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Margaret Pokiak-Fenton
Occupation Writer
Nationality Canadian
Period From 2010 to 2021
Genre Children's Literature
Spouse Lyle Fenton

Margaret Olemaun Pokiak-Fenton (June 7, 1936 – April 21, 2021) was an Inuvialuit author of children's books, story keeper, and residential school survivor.

Personal life

Margaret Pokiak was born June 7, 1936 on Baillie Island, Northwest Territories, Canada. Her family was travelling to Banks Island, where they would hunt during the winter, and remained there until she was eight years old. As a child, she learned how to drive a dog-sled, hunt, and would travel on a schooner on a regular basis to gather supplies.

Inuvialiut communities -3
Pokiak-Fenton's community of the Inuvialuit settlement region.

When she was eight years old she travelled to Aklavik, a fur trading settlement founded by her great-grandfather, to attend the Immaculate Conception residential school, run by the Roman Catholic Church. She had a strong desire to learn how to read and begged to go to the school, despite its horrific reputation. Her book Fatty Legs describes this experience and reveals her eagerness to learn how to read and her desire to join school, in spite of the oppressive atmosphere present in these schools. After Pokiak-Fenton entered residential school she did not see her parents for two years. In a 2020 interview with Shelagh Rogers on CBC's The Next Chapter, Pokiak-Fenton related that over the two years she forgot her language, food, and "everything." When she returned home she could no longer communicate with her mother because her mother did not speak English.

After two years of schooling, Pokiak-Fenton moved back to her family, which was in Tuktoyaktuk at the time. Although she had a challenging time at the Immaculate Conception residential school, she returned to school to accompany her younger sisters.

Later she began her work for the Hudson's Bay Company. In Tuktoyaktuk, she also met Lyle Fenton, her future husband. Lyle was working on the DEW Line Project. They moved together to Fort St. John, British Columbia, where they raised a family of eight children.

Pokiak-Fenton was a fixture at the farmers' market at Fort St. John where she was locally famous for her beadwork, embroidery, and bannock. Her book, Fatty Legs, was initially sold only at the Farmers' Market. read the books of olemauns life to have more information .

Pokiak-Fenton would not speak about her experience in residential school for much of her life, however after writing Fatty Legs she began to speak more about her experience. Encouraged by her daughter-in-law Christy Jordan-Fenton, she told her story of the hardships of residential school so her grandchildren and other children would learn the truth of the experiences. When Pokiak-Fenton wrote her first book and began to speak at schools and libraries, many people in Canada did not know about residential schools.

Pokiak-Fenton returned to using her birth name of Olemaun at the age of 80. Olemaun means the stone that sharpens an ulu knife. Pokiak-Fenton had changed to using the name Margaret as a child and no longer felt a connection to her culture due to the assimilation process enforced at the residential school. According to her daughter-in-law she received a traditional tattoo of a caribou at age 81.

Pokiak-Fenton died on April 21, 2021. She was predeceased by her husband Lyle.

Writing career

Pokiak-Fenton co-wrote a number of books with her daughter-in-law, Christy Jordan-Fenton. Her stories relayed the horrors of the residential school system in terms that could be understood by young readers. Her stories also relayed the experience of living in the north of Canada. Pokiak-Fenton and Jordan-Fenton extensively toured Canada, and also visited the United States and Cuba, to tell the story of residential schools, making 100 school and library visits a year.

Although reluctant at first, writing and relating about her experiences of residential school, loss and recovery of culture, and resiliency in the face of hardship became a mission for Pokiak-Fenton. Her work is notable because stories for children about residential school written by survivors were so rare. In numerous interviews and articles she related that many survivors do not speak of their experiences. She is quoted in an article saying: “So many of them have problems that they put out of their mind, but deep inside they just don’t know how to cope with it. But then my book gave a lot of people a chance for hope. I think that’s why, when they read the book, it makes them understand so much more than they ever knew.” Her writing became an important way to teach children and formed the basis of numerous lesson plans with elementary school systems.

Pokiak-Fenton's books frequently appear on recommended readings lists, especially in relation to the experiences of Indigenous peoples in Canada. All four of her books were included in a list of 48 titles curated by writer David A. Robertson featured on the CBC website after the announcement that the bodies of 251 children were confirmed in an unmarked burial at the Kamloops Indian Residential School.

Awards and honours

Fatty Legs was named one of the ten best children's books of the year by The Globe and Mail in 2011.'

The Ontario Library Association included A Stranger At Home on their annual Best Bets List.

Canadian Toy Testing Council and TD Summer Reading Club included When I Was Eight on recommended reading lists.

The Center for the Study of Multicultural Children's Literature named Not My Girl one of the best multicultural children's books of 2014.

Fatty Legs, A Stranger at Home, When I Was Eight, and Not My Girl have all been named some of the best books for kids and teens by the Canadian Children's Book Centre.

Awards for Pokiak-Fenton's writing
Year Title Title Award Result
2011 Fatty Legs First Nation Communities Read Award Winner
Next Generation Indie Book Awards for Children's/Juvenile Nonfiction Finalist
Sheila A. Egoff Children’s Literature Prize Shortlist
USBBY Outstanding International Books Selection
2012 Hackmatack Children's Choice Book Award for Non-fiction Shortlist
Ontario Library Association's Golden Oak Award Shortlist
A Stranger At Home Independent Publishers Book Award Winner
International Youth Library's White Ravens Collection Selection
Next Generation Indie Book Awards for Children's/Juvenile Nonfiction Finalist
Skipping Stones Book Award Honor
USBBY Outstanding International Books Selection
VOYA Nonfiction Honor List Selection
2013 When I Was Eight Christie Harris Illustrated Children’s Literature Prize Finalist
2015 Not My Girl Chocolate Lily Award Shortlist
da Vinci Eye Award Finalist
Information Book Award Shortlist
Skipping Stones Book Award Honor
Storytelling World Award Honor
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